By Carl Kozlowski
Director B.J. Davis has never been afraid of unique challenges. In fact, he’s the proud holder of two Guinness World Records for outrageous stunts that brought him international attention at the dawn of his career: one for the highest hanging flight out of a helicopter and a second for the highest drop into sea water.
“I was dangled 1,000 feet over the ground from a helicopter on a 20-minute flight across Los Angeles from Universal Studios to the Santa Monica Pier,” recalls Davis. “Then for the finale, they dropped me 180 feet, or 18 stories, into the ocean. Back then, reporters like Connie Chung and Brent Musburger were the locals here covering it, and it was worth a million dollars in free publicity.”
Indeed, it was a bold means of getting attention for a man who was a relatively new stuntman at the time, trying to break out of the pack just a couple years after moving to L.A. from his native Texas to work in the film industry. He’s never looked back. Davis shot up the ranks as a stunt coordinator and second unit director, to eventually become a full-fledged director of dozens of TV episodes and 15 feature, his latest the just-wrapped comedy Forget About It, starring Burt Reynolds, Raquel Welch, Robert Loggia and Charles Durning.
Forget About It tells the story of Sam (Reynolds), a Vietnam veteran who gets caught up in Mafia mayhem with his buddies Carl (Loggia) and Eddie (Durning) when an East Coast wiseguy ends up in the Witness Protection Program in their mobile home park. Welch plays Chrissy, an ex-Vegas showgirl who works them all for their retirement plan, bringing everything to a heady mix of what Davis terms “money, Mafia and mischief.”
“I approached everybody on this film from a personal history level,” says Davis. “That’s the way I’ve done a lot of my pictures—I’ve worked with talent as a stunt director and then again as a full-fledged director.”
Davis first met Reynolds while working as a stuntman on his 1978 film Hooper. He credits much of his directorial education with learning how to run a set well from the “greats” he’s worked with like Oliver Stone and Clint Eastwood, and learning “what not to do” from the “not-so-greats.”
The low-budget pic was made possible via profit participation deals with the stars, and financed by the Beverly Hills Film Studios team of producers John D. Schofield, Beau Davis, Kimberley Kates and Anthony Falco. The goal is to earn a shot at theatrical distribution by the end of 2004 or early 2005.
A 1994 inductee in the Stuntman Hall of Fame, Davis, an athlete throughout his youth, felt drawn to the physical challenges of stuntwork after giving up aspirations of becoming a lawyer. During his stuntman career he was involved in more than 180 productions and 250 more as a stunt coordinator and second unit director.
The decision to transition from stuntman into stunt coordination was motivated by a desire to maintain career longevity with a management position.
“The second unit is like prep school for directing,” says Davis. “Often the second unit goes off and makes a different film than the first unit had in mind. You have to learn to be resilient, resourceful, and creative, doing more with less.”
As overall director, he’s learned that the financial and creative commitment brings far greater challenges and potential pitfalls.
“We’re very hopeful but realistic. We showed raw footage assembly of Forget About It to film students and it got laughs already, so it feels like something good will happen,” he says.
By Carl Kozlowski